Anita Desai Essay
The main characters who struck me the most are Uma and her brother Arun; to them are dedicated the two parts of the novel. Personally I think they have a lot of things in common and I’m not only considering the fact that they belong to the same close-knit family: they are somehow subjected to a reality from which they both want to escape. Uma is the plainest character of the novel, I think: she always obeys her parents and makes everything they want her to do. This is not completely a negative point but, reading the first pages of the book, I admit that I would like to react for her to the commandments of her MamaPapa, as they are often mentioned…”Go to the cook”…”Prepare the packet for your brother”…”Write a letter”…but how can she manage to do all these things together?!
In my opinion Uma is also naïve, she seems to be somehow tied by a sense of duty to her parents, especially after the failure of her two arranged marriages, and what about the dowry she has squandered?! as her father reminds her.
The only “pause” of her life is given by the visits of Mira-masi, a particular woman who deeply fascinates Uma for the stories she tells her: she represents a ray of hope into the life of the girl, although her parents don’t approve the complicity created between them.
Arun, whose birth was really longed for, is sent to the USA where he attends the college: being the only son of the family he has the honour of receiving a good education and he has also the possibility to live far from the oppressing reality of his homeland.
But his life remains very unhappy: also the family to which he lives while in America is a sort of weight for him. The second part of the novel seems to me a long digression about food, I think that the food itself is the only reason for a link between Arun and the new family, Mrs Patton in particular. I think both brother and sister are oppressed voices who want to live in peace and to escape from the world they live in, although they aren’t able to rebel against it. For this very reason I would like them to write to each other, what does not happen in the novel. Dear Arun,
Maybe for the first time in my life I admit that I’m very sad but what troubles me the most is the fact that I’m not able to find a way out…
Our cousin Anamika is dead. Everybody here is trying to give an explanation but…what for, she won’t ever come back and there are no acceptable explanations for her death… I absolutely can’t imagine that the urn in front of me contains her ashes…she is dead… but I’m dead too. Her awe for the family led her towards death, but what about me?
I will stay forever with MamaPapa, I can’t abandon them, they are…my life! When mama grips my hand I know, I feel that there is something strong between us and I can’t, I can’t leave…
MamaPapa is calling me…I have to go.
I don’t know if I will ever send this letter to you: perhaps I will burn it. Uma
A new semester at the college is beginning and my stay with the Pattons is over. I’m happy because I can leave this strange family: it wasn’t my place, I didn’t feel comfortable with them, I felt oppressed and obliged to be part of it, maybe only because I felt sorry for Mrs Patton and I didn’t want to disappoint her.
This is the reason why I gave her the presents you sent me (but please don’t reveal anything to MamaPapa!): I didn’t want her to be worried about me when I silently walked out of her life. Arun
Alice Bravin 5 H
Liceo Scientifico “M. Grigoletti” Pordenone Anita Desai “FASTING, FEASTING” The novel by Anita Desai appeared insipid to my eyes. If I were asked to collect all the emotions that the book has stirred in my heart, I would find myself in anguishing troubles, for I’m quite numb to it as well I am frustrated by each work of art dominated by a sense of heaviness. The characters are imbued with, or even better, they are emblems of this heaviness which reveals itself mainly in the temperament of Uma, who is the best-built character of the novel. Anita Desai succeeded in the enterprise of creating a character without personality, a woman deprived of her soul.
She is the designated victim who is doomed to endure the burden of life, symbolized first of all by her parents. Uma doesn’t strike my sensibility: I don’t feel pity for her, nor would I establish a sort of sympathetic relationship with her; her ineptitude doesn’t arouse my anger, nor would I shake her out of the status of torpor she experiences. I am quite interested in one of the psychological aspects of Uma, that of repression. Uma is not free to be what she wants to be, to do what she wants to do, so she is utterly repressed in her passions, in her feelings, in her personality; this last dimension is completely neglected to her.
These inner forces run inside her veins and arteries, like water permeating through the cracks of a rock and when temperatures gets colder, it becomes ice and causes the explosion of the rock. The same happens inside Uma and the implosion is disguised as a sort of disease. Convulsions, nausea which leads to vomit, suffered cries, these moments are the most involving – and at the same time disturbing – moments and situations of the novel. I would have appreciated if Anita Desai had developed this edge of the prism of Uma. Sigmund Freud stated that mental patients are like diamonds, whose structure is based on its corners. In these lines the diamond would break in case it fell on the ground. Uma is like that. Her body seems possessed by a demoniac spirit, her limbs, her bowels are rocked by the unique act of rebellion which is allowed to her.
I wonder why the writer has snobbed this issue, which probably assumes a religious and philosophical value and is strictly connected to Indian culture. The heaviness that haunts the book is expressed even by the settings. Concerning this point I would like to recall the image of Uma and her aunt who leave together on a spiritual trip. The bus they catch is incredibly crowded: this episode evokes the image of mingled noises and smells within the dusty and sandy air of India. The writer enables us to appreciate each aspect of the setting – thanks to her detailed language – so that the reader manages to broaden his sensorial perceptions and is caught by the use of synaesthesia.
( The description of the believers bathing in the Gange becomes meaningful in this sense ). Before starting reading the book I thought it would be quite precious for me in order to learn more about the Indian world, even appreciating it by means of the parallel Anita Desai draws with Northern America. But I was wrong: “Fasting, feasting ” doesn’t seem so representative of India: the impression I get is that of a character – Uma – who might be possibly Irish or even Italian. Westerners share the same common imagery about India and this common imagery is banal and dominated by prejudices.
The book is ambiguous, in the sense that neither supports this statement, nor deny it. The same ambiguity lies in the second part of the novel – that dedicated to Arun – which takes place in the United Stated of America. Anita Desai gives us tenets and traits of the American Society coming in the story of an American family. Here there aren’t crowded busses or temples, but televisions, junk food, couches, barbecues, baseball matches and people who enjoy all these objects and events. The same dusty air is breathed by Arun when he goes back home walking on the boundaries of the street.
The same atmosphere of heaviness which degenerates into disease. For these very reasons I state that Uma and her story are not so “Indian”. Moreover, I have some perplexities about the last chapter – really shorter than the first one – which doesn’t find a proper literary justification. It is a sort of appendix, even if only almost at the end of the book there’s the precise reference to the tile “Fasting, feasting” and is embodied by the bulimic girl. Alessandra Crimi 5 H
Liceo Scientifico “M. Grigoletti” Pordenone Anita Desai – Fasting, Feasting Fasting, Feasting is one of the most interesting books I have ever read. Thanks to the brilliant descriptions and the elegant narration the reader has the opportunity to create an imaginary but precise setting were characters develop during the story. I think that this novel is like a mirror because it gives the opportunity to reflect, in both meanings of the word.
We can reflect ourselves in the protagonists (mirror-like effect) and we can reflect, think, about the different values and importance that people from different societies give to ideals they believe in. In my opinion the rhythm of the narration is sometimes too slow, but I can understand that it is due to the fact that, once again, it mirrors the context where the story takes place. In India, in fact, there is no frenetic life, no stress, no anxiety of living and for this very reason people can pay attention to little events that we probably ignore.
When the father asks for his drink, it seems to me that everyone in the family has to stop and be there for this event; when a guest arrives unexpectedly, all the attention is directed to him; even the choice of one kind of food rather than another seems to be one of the most important problems of the day. . The character of Mumdad is what emotionally touched me most, maybe because to a certain extent I can detect in them some traits my parents have. The image of Mumdad on the swing describes their indissoluble bond.
Mumdad are a unique person/entity made up of two different souls. These two souls are always at unison, they never take opposite decisions, they argue but they always find a compromise, they are, in a word, complementary.
I always admired this ability to build little by little a life together even if, for a child, sometimes it’s not so easy to accept their decision, or rather, their impositions. Uma is my favourite character. In some parts of the novel I felt really involved in her problems, in her thoughts and desires. She loves school even if she isn’t able to get good marks; she loves learning, she wants to try again, to spend another year at school, she’s sure she will improve. She suffers when Mumdad decide she should give up her studies.
She suffers when she understands she is not as beautiful, intelligent as her sister Aruna, and so she is considered a lesser woman.
Uma suffers silently, she accepts her condition of inferiority, yet she is always looking for a moment of glory that, unfortunately, never comes. She is like the most humble flower that grows up silently, that is trampled from the gardener that gave her birth, because a rose is blooming next to the humble flower and he must be there to praise the perfection and beauty of the rose.
I’m not saying that I reflect myself in Uma , absolutely not, on the contrary, I’m saying that all my life I have been an Aruna, and I didn’t
know about it. I’m an only child, there is no Uma in my family, but thanks to the juxtaposition of the two characters I have understood that I have always been loved and pampered and nursed and highly considered and I don’t really know if I deserve all this.
This book has really been a great opportunity for me, it has made me reflect on my values and on the meaning of my “little” life: too often we don’t realise what is around us. But now I want stop talking about me. I would love to write a few lines about arranged marriages. In our Western society, marriage is generally viewed as a value strongly linked with the concept of freedom, the freedom to choose the person with whom we would like to spend all our life.
We have this great opportunity and we often waste it. We are free to love a person for his peculiarities and not for his money and often people choose the partner for his richness, we get married and then we divorce and kids are treated as merchandise, we often get married for reasons that sometimes are far away from love and we claim to judge a society where parents choose a spouse for their children. I think that Western people are more contradictory than what they want to admit and perhaps less happy. Perhaps it is this very feeling that leads plenty of us to judge other cultures.
DA PIEVE LUCIA 5 H
Liceo scientifico “M. Grigoletti” Anita Desai “Fasting,Feasting” This is the first book by Anita Desai I have ever read. Her observations are astute whether they are on living conditions in India or USA. Anita Desai uses her words perfectly to convey exactly what she feels,but even if it could seem a contradiction,I think that the problem with the book is its dry, clinical approach in chronicling the lives of the characters, the book lacks passion. I was always on the outside, looking into the lives of people. The book offers few chances of getting involved with the characters ,in fact while reading the book I didn’t feel the compulsion of finishing it quickly. The part I liked better is the first half of the book that deals with life in a small, slow town in India, with rigid parents and well-drafted routines.
The ”Indian half” is more detailed than the other half which deals with the “rule-less” life in suburban USA. In the first half there is a partly successful, proud father, who goes through life, with set patterns and no passion. A mother who goes along with her husband, doing what is supposedly right and expected of her, curbing and killing all her innate desires. Three children. The eldest, Uma, clumsy . The middle daughter Aruna, pretty, ambitious and smart, but eventually also a victim of her choices.
The last, a son, Arun, on whom the parents put all their dreams and energies. All of them, along with members of their extended family, go through some form of deprivation (of will, of fun, of passion and of love). I think that a merit of this book is the way it highlights the Indian traditions, cultures and mostly the place of a woman in an Indian family. I liked the character of Uma in the book because she is both willing to take a chance with life and at the same time dedicated to her family.She takes whatever happens to her life with such grace that she does not give me a chance to cry for her. I like her inner strength.
The story in itself is told from the perspective of the protagonist, Uma, who starts out as a wideeyed child at a convent who shows an enthusiasm for education but with the birth of her brother Arun, Uma takes on the role of nanny. Here, one encounters the distinct preference parents have for the male child.
Desai next explores the conventional belief that ties a woman’s worth to her physical appearance. A woman who lacks beauty is often rushed into the first marital offer she receives, only to pay a heavy price later on. Desai shows the challenges a single woman faces regardless of how successful she is. By contrast, Uma’s cousin is portrayed as the ultimate success because she is able to marry well thanks to her looks. She makes the reader wonder how happy she truly is, when she eventually takes her own life.
Uma is the main character in the first half of the novel. She is a clumsy, uncoordinated woman who finds it difficult to succeed in almost everything she does – she fails in school, can’t cook, spills food and drink and can’t find anyone worthwhile to get married to. Her father feels that Uma is incapable of fending for herself, as she is too clumsy, uncoordinated and
proves a failure in almost everything she does.Uma fails in school, in the kitchen and she even fails to find anyone worthwhile to get married to.
The father asks Uma to interrupt her studies in the Christian convent when he find out she not doing very well at school. He feels that it was a waste of time and money to provide Uma an education ;he has other plans for her.She will look after her baby brother Arun and take care of the household while her mother rests after giving birth. Uma’s life is constantly planned by her father.Uma cannot resist her father’s oppressive patriarchal ideology, as she is afraid of the consequences that would befall her if she angered the colonial characteristics of her father. Uma’s entertainment comes in the form of her cousin, Ramu. When Ramu is around, Uma feels at ease. But the father feels that Ramu is a bad influence on Uma. He does not want Uma to be influenced by other men who are capable of brainwashing her to resist the demands of his patriarchal nature.